Crash Course: The Best Show on the Internet

No, really.  And I am extraordinarily picky.  I don’t listen to podcasts and I rarely watch web series — despite the fact that I have worked on both, they just don’t hold my attention.  This, on the other hand, is absolute brilliance, and everyone I know who knows about it has watched the entire series of videos.

John Green, a self-deprecating James Potter look-alike, is a talented writer and charming host (who is happily married and therefore not available to return my crush) and the graphic team at Thought Bubble makes a lot of the more difficult concepts both fun and easier to understand.  Why isn’t learning always this fun?

My favorite episode is the Columbian Exchange, because that’s one of my favorite historical events and it’s video number 23, which is my favorite number.

There is also a series on science that I haven’t watched in its whole, it seems a lot less ADHD and charming, but still awesome.  I mean, introducing biology as about sex and not dying… well, hell, I’m sold.

 

Hey Girls: You Deserve Cancer, you sluts!

I live in a state that is often accused of being the worst.  We have a saying in South Carolina: “Thank God for Mississippi!”  When it comes to diseases and listening to the religious right being absolutely beyond stupid, we are pretty close to the bottom.

There is a wonderful vaccine that prevents several kinds of cancer, including almost all cervical cancer, anal cancer, and other cancers as well.  The vaccine also reduces the risk of fertility problems!  The problem is that the vaccine prevents HPV, something people can get through sex.  It should be noted, however, that this is NOT the only way people get HPV.  The thing is, getting HPV from a non-human object can actually happen.  In that study, over half of the virgins tested had HPV.

And it’s frustrating that I should even have to make that point.  Sex is good, sex is healthy, sex is natural, sex should be accepted as an important part of the human condition.  But you don’t have to be a raging slut/whore/liberal to get HPV.

Which is why it is especially tragic that, in a state with incredibly high cervical cancer rates (9th in deaths in the nation, three times higher in African American women), less than 20% of eligible women are getting this vaccine.  I am sure the number is even lower for eligible young men.  Why? Because we won’t enact a mandate like we have for other vaccines.  And, just last week, the house would not overrule a veto from our evil governor, Nikki Haley, that prevents schools from getting funding to provide information on the vaccine.  Not to force anyone to have it, but to tell people it exists.

Nikki Haley: It’s better for people to die than for parents to possibly have to discuss sex with their children.

Also, if you are under 26, male or female, you should get the Gardasil vaccine.  For yourself and for others.

GARDASIL is the only human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that helps protect against 4 types of HPV. In girls and young women ages 9 to 26, GARDASIL helps protect against 2 types of HPV that cause about 75% of cervical cancer cases, and 2 more types that cause 90% of genital warts cases. In boys and young men ages 9 to 26, GARDASIL helps protect against 90% of genital warts cases.

GARDASIL also helps protect girls and young women ages 9 to 26 against 70% of vaginal cancer cases and up to 50% of vulvar cancer cases.

Since I’ve had mine, does that mean I’m contractually obligated to be a slut/whore/liberal now?

Here are some sobering statistics given in the hopes of scaring people into getting the jab.

Secular Woman: National Organization Devoted to Women in Secularism

There is a new organization on the scene, and one that I am very excited about.  I hope it is successful, because it seems to be pulling together a lot of the things the feminists in the movement have been calling for.  The organization is focused on raising money to give grants to send women to conferences, much like SurlyAmy has been doing; collecting the sexual harassment policies for different conferences in one place, much like Stephanie Zvan and others have been doing; and developing a Speaker’s Bureau to encourage conferences to invite women, much like Blag Hag’s list of women speakers.

It’s not that any of those women’s efforts have been unsuccessful, but rather that the ad hoc collection of efforts from different women now has a centralized, official effort.

I also think it’s important that the constant arguments about this seem to have been making a huge impact.  Even the, in my opinion, completely wrongheaded attacks on Sexual Harassment Policies from thunderf00t and Todd Stiefel have been coming from a place of assuming that policies are good and necessary, just that they need to be less trusting of women’s honesty in reporting sexual harassment.

Through strategic partnerships, Secular Woman will also advocate for equal pay, reproductive choice, and marriage equality, addressing political trends the group sees as ideologically-motivated threats to its members’ freedom of conscience.

I have joined.  The first 25 student memberships are free, so if you’re a student, get on that!

Healthcare win: Obamacare survives SCOTUS

The Supreme Court ruled today on the Obamacare provisions and upheld it almost in its entirety.  I am surprised by this, I was fully expecting to be writing a post right now saying just the opposite.  Even more surprising is that Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority of the opinion and Kennedy wrote the dissent.  If anything could be done to restore some small amount of faith in the judicial branch of the government, this was it.

Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.

The only thing they’ve really changed is that Congress doesn’t have the ability to punish states for non-compliance by taking away Medicaid funding.  Everything else stands based on Congress’ right to impose taxes — the opinion seems to say that the mandate is functionally a tax, and therefore Constitutional.

Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.

I’m still waiting for an online copy. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf

Gay Marriage: Blankenhorn’s Conversion

It is human nature to love the story of a convert, but it is even better when the convert is someone who has been fighting against your cause for a long time.  David Blankenhorn was the key witness for the Prop 8 proponents (anti-marriage) and is generally thought to have made a bit of a shambles with the argument — mostly because there was no legitimate argument to be made.  He is now supporting gay marriage.

Blankenhorn’s primary argument up to the conversion had been that marriage is about having children and that same-sex marriage would undermine that purpose.  Despite his longtime support for so-called traditional marriage, he said the following in his testimony, in response to aggressive questioning:

I believe that adoption of same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.

We would be more American on the day we legalized gay marriage than the day before.

With quotes like these in his testimony it is perhaps unsurprising that the lead witness against Californian’s right to gay marriage is now identifying as a gay marriage supporter.  Blankenhorn’s position has always been more nuanced and humanist than the anti-gay arguments generally given against same-sex marriage and it is refreshing to see him turn that nuanced acumen to a different conclusion.  I happen to massively disagree with his conclusions as to the worth, goals, and historical understanding of marriage, but it is clear he thinks that human dignity and rights are an important part of saving the institution he cares about and the only way to do that is to stop making the defining feature of marriage the fact that it’s for straights only.

His essay in the New York Times is heartening and a reminder that being out and being vocal about your rights does matter and changes the world, even if it is just one person at a time.

I do believe, with growing numbers of Americans, that the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over. Whatever one’s definition of marriage, legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness.

Plan 9 from Seattle

As some of you know, and many undoubtedly do not, I was in my first play ever last March, a stage version of the Ed Wood epic Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Well, I went to the museum in Seattle and discovered an actual UFO from the actual movie.

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And I saw lots of musical instruments, and a few ukuleles amongst them even.

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And a vagina I mean facehugger

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And Mr. Stabby from Buffy!

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Feminism, Privilege, and Learning About Humility

This is a guest post from Patrick Mitchell, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Ashley F. Miller

One year ago, after one of the most agonizing struggles of my life, I finally shook off the chains of fundamentalist Christianity, leaving me free to explore ideas in a way I never dreamt possible: in color.  You see, in Fundyland™, everything is black and white: You are for me or against me, men are the head, women serve. Sex outside marriage is evil, sex inside marriage is required.

Drinking “gender role” tripe for 10 years from fundamentalist Bible passages and pastors, alongside the idea that feminism is the devil, served to create a large barrier for me understanding feminism in a meaningful way much longer than it took me to understand homosexuality wasn’t a sin, or that enjoying sex is natural.

Also, I’m male.

I have been wanting to distill my thoughts about feminism in the context of my atheism for some time, and on the year anniversary of my freedom, I figured it would be a good occasion.  This is an expansion of the thoughts I had on my own blog, and Ashley (who has strongly influenced my own feminism in positive ways) was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity for this platform.

Misogyny Is Everywhere

“Grow a pair,” “Man Up,” “Pansy,” are phrases that misogynist and Fundyland™ culture uses to denigrate the feminine and elevate the masculine.  Phrases I used to use without a moment’s thought that state unabashedly “Men are strong, women are weak.” And yet this could not be further from the truth.  I have seen women with more strength of character and resolve than dozens of men: these claims are demonstrably false.

Anita Sarkeesian’s series on Tropes vs. Women served to help me realize just how much misogyny has infected our culture, such that it is nearly hidden from view.  Traditional gender roles, defined by the apostle Paul and ignorantly parroted across the world today, are inherently sexist and entirely stupid. There is absolutely no reason why “Men are the head of the household” should be taken for granted.  In fundamentalism, everything is black and white.  In reality, there is color.

Women have the right to function in a relationship as they desire to define themselves. I have no right, no recompense, nor stature with which to demand (or even suggest) the way in which two genders interact with one another.  When one realizes that sexuality and gender itself is fluid, the archaic notion of ‘roles’ should promptly be defenstrated from any rational person’s mind.

And thus, I must continue to fight against my own past, the small-mindedness of my fundamentalist background, to see the opposite sex as a full human, lacking in nothing, whose values and expertise must and should be evaluated on her terms, not on mine.

I Am Privileged

The thing about the word privilege, is that its one of those things that is nearly impossible to understand until you’ve experienced life without it.  When I lost my faith, but more specifically when I became public about it, I learned what its like to be in the minority of wordview, to have people hate and judge me based on something fundamentally outside my control.

It’s not the same, but it knocked me down enough notches to recognize I was too stupid, too arrogant, and too blind to really know how well I had it.  This is the fundamental idea of privilege, be it white, male, cis, or rich (all of which I am).  Therefore I have an uphill battle to recognize it in myself.

The first time my own privilege reared its head was when I first read about Watsongate (in an uninformed rant on /r/atheism).  I thought it was the most infantile reaction, and was behind Dawkins for calling out what was clearly a childish plea for attention.

Then I read about Watsongate from Ashley’s perspective.  Thanks to the SSA here in our meager town of Columbia, SC, I knew Ashley personally and was more likely to respect what she had to say. She isn’t the type of person that gets behind idiots with bad ideas, so I read.  And I learned about Schrodinger’s rapist, and started to realize I’ve never felt fearful for my sexual identity being violated, and very rarely have I been objectified in a way that made me uncomfortable.  Then I learned about the statistics, numbers that run through feminists’ minds, that had never crossed my own.

And then it hit me: I didn’t know, and couldn’t know, what it feels like to be threatened.

So in the face of this fact, I did what any good skeptic should: withhold judgement, assess the facts, and change my mind if the facts deem it so.  And thus, I did.

The Skeptic Community Needs Feminism

First, let me say that I don’t use the word “need” to say that feminists need me, or anyone, to achieve their goals, in any way that denigrates their role or prior achievements.  Nor am I at all mature in this movement, so my commentary must come with a grain of salt.

But in this past year, after reading about the Rebecca Watson incident, after what The Amazing Atheist said, and the current debacle over TAM’s reporting policy, it is clear that there is a need for the voices of those who are actually aware and affected by the issues to speak up, and to have the attention of everyone when they say something.  On blogs, posts, walls, reddit threads, everywhere in the skeptic movement it is clear that there is a man-child level of misogyny that rivals our fundamentalist foes: women are routinely denigrated, slut-shamed, and recognized for their ability to reproduce rather than the quality and content of their discourse.  Ashley has obliged before on this issue.

This is a problem. A hill that the community faces, that will bring it to a grinding halt if we don’t take a step back and address the issues.  I would prefer that we all just became aware that calling people ‘cunt,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ etc. is bigoted and stupid, but at the very least we should continue fighting to enact policies that protect the speech of sexual harassment whistleblowers.

The sad thing is, we look more like the religious than than skeptics and freethinkers when we treat one another this way.

The US Needs Feminism

The recent string of back-woods Bible-fueled insanity in this country highlight the need for us to shape the discourse of our nation towards recognizing misogyny and feminist-sensitive issues.  The uptick across several states in invasive and psychologically damaging procedures to dissuade (and disparage) women who seek abortions from having them in incredibly humiliating ways.

The Catholic Leagues attempt to take away women’s health rights by masking legalized suffering in religious terms means that atheist feminists are uniquely qualified to answer both questions: It is not alright to force women to suffer, and especially not because of a 2000-year-old delusional fairy tale.

Across this country, there are senators and Congressmen who have been elected who are so steeped in their own privilege as to render them incapable of representing 51% of the voting muscle of the nation.  This is a problem, and should be recognized and addressed by those of us with minds and eyes enough to see the problem.

Seeing in Color

After this year, I can recognize the beauty that is feminism, and the demon of my own ingorance that I need to continually stab until it rears its ugly head no more.  In my small way, I seek to educate others about the journey I’ve had and what it’s taught me.  To be sure, there are irrational sexists out there who would masquerade under the title of feminism, but their rantings do not make the issues any less important or real.  I have to check my privilege at the door to continue this conversation, and thanks to people like Ashley, Greta Christina, Sikivu Hutchenson, the Godless Bitches, and many others, I’m learning.

And I want to continue this conversation, for a long, long time.

About The Author


Patrick Mitchell is a 27-year old Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Student at University of South Carolina.  He became a Christian at age 16 and studied theology and apologetics, was president of USC’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and served as a lay minister and worship leader in multiple congregations.  His interests include History, Theology, Philosophy, Music, Engineering, and Psychology.  He blogs at his personal website, the Coffee Shop Atheist, writes for his School Newspaper, and is an officer of The Pastafarians @ USC, a SSA affiliate group.

The point of the TAM harassment posts

I read the comment threads on a lot of these TAM harassment posts and many readers seem to miss the fundamental point:

DJ said women were not attending TAM because other women were posting about harassment at skeptic events. He justified this by saying no reports of harassment were made at TAM last year.

These “feminazi” posts are actually just a skeptical examination of his claim.  And since there’s a lot of evidence in favor of reports of harassment having been made, his conclusion, that women should stop talking about it, is without any evidence or argument to justify it.

At this point, it seems the more reasonable claim is that DJ needs to stop posting comments in blogs blaming women for low female attendance as that has directly led to several women deciding not to go.

Obviously, this is an emotional issue for a lot of the people involved, but we have to remember that emotions are valid and exist on all sides of the debate.  The point stands regardless: women are leaving TAM because of DJ.